2011. Vol.2, No.5, 411-415
Copyright © 2011 SciRes. DOI:10.4236/psych.2011.25064
Competitive Orientations and the Type A Behavior Pattern
Bill Thornton1, Richard M. Ryckman2, Joel A. Gold2
1Department of Psychology, University of Southern Maine, Portland, USA;
2University of Maine, Orono, USA.
Received March 23rd, 2011; revised May 16th, 2011; accepted June 21st, 2011.
Differences in competitive orientations were examined in relation to two components of the Type A behavior
pattern, Achievement Strivings and Impatience-Irritability, that have differential implications for achievement
performance and health. As expected, hypercompetitiveness was not related to Achievement Strivings, but posi-
tively correlated with Impatience-Irritability. In contrast, personal development competitiveness related posi-
tively to Achievement Strivings, but was not related to Impatience-Irritability. Hypercompetitiveness was not
related to actual academic achievement either, but personal development competitiveness was positively corre-
lated. Hypercompetitiveness was associated with greater self-reported health problems, whereas personal devel-
opment competitiveness was associated with fewer health problems. Results further corroborate the discriminant
validity of the hypercompetitive and personal development competitive construct and suggest negative psycho-
somatic implications for the hypercompetitive individual.
Keywords: Competition, Hypercompetitiveness, Type A, Health, Achievement
The Type A behavior pattern is characterized by exaggerated
achievement strivings, a heightened degree of competitiveness
and hostility, and impatience associated with an aggressive
struggle to achieve more in less time (Friedman & Rosenman,
1974). Although the Type A behavior pattern may be associated
with greater achievement and success (Glass, 1977; Matthews,
Helmreich, Beane, & Lucker, 1980; Waldron et al., 1980), it
may also increase the risk for general health problems and ill-
ness, including hypertension and coronary heart disease (Byrne,
1992; Friedman & Booth-Kewley, 1987; Friedman & Rosen-
man, 1974; Jenkins, Zyzanski, & Rosenman, 1971; Price, 1982;
Rosenman, 1993; Rosenman, Swan, & Carmelli, 1988; Suls &
Separate independent components within the Type A behav-
ior pattern may contribute differentially to either positive or
negative consequences where achievement and health are con-
cerned (Booth-Kewley & Friedman, 1987; Helmreich, Spence,
& Pred, 1988; Jex, Adams, Elacqua, & Bachrach, 2002;
Palmero, Diez, & Asensio, 2001; Rosenman, 1991; Spence,
Helmreich, & Pred, 1987; Spielberger et al., 1985). In particular,
the predisposing factor for health-related problems seems to
consist of excessive competitiveness, impatience, anger, hostil-
ity, and aggressiveness (Booth-Kewley & Friedman, 1987;
Johnson, 1990; Rosenman, 1991). For example, utilizing the
Jenkins’ Activity Survey (Jenkins et al., 1971, 1979), Spence
and her colleagues (Spence et al., 1987; Spence, Pred & Helm-
reich, 1989; Pred, Helmreich, & Spence, 1987) identified two
separate components within the Type A behavior pattern:
Achievement Striving, characterized by a hard-driving task ori-
entation, taking one’s work seriously, and expending effort to
achieve; and Impatience-Irritability, reflecting time urgency,
anger, hostility, and aggressiveness. The Impatient-Irritability
component is comparable to the JAS-S (Speed-Impatience)
factor that is associated with cardiac reactivity and characteris-
tic of people prone to cardiovascular disorders (e.g., Palmero et
al., 2001). Research indicates Achievement Striving is posi-
tively associated with academic and occupational performance,
but not related to health problems; in contrast, Impatience-
Irritability is positively associated with health problems, but
unrelated to performance (Barling & Boswell, 1995; Barling &
Charbonneau, 1992; Bluen, Barling, & Burns, 1990; Chidester,
1990; Conte, Mathieu, & Landy, 1998; Day & Jriege, 2002;
Spence et al., 1987, 1989).
Spence et al. (1987) focused particular attention on the role
of interpersonal competitiveness as it is often an inherent com-
ponent to many achievement situations, and one of the three
dimensions included in their assessment of intrinsic achieve-
ment motivation (see Helmreich & Spence, 1978; Spence &
Helmreich, 1983). Although their conception of competitive-
ness was generally a healthy enjoyment of competition and a
desire to win, such competitiveness was positively correlated
with both Achievement Striving and Impatience-Irritability and
was a correlate of poor health (Spence et al., 1987) and poor
performance on achievement tasks (Spence & Helmreich, 1983;
Spence et al., 1987). Whereas some degree of competitiveness
may be normal and inherent in achievement strivings, excessive
competitiveness may be unwarranted and perhaps would prove
particularly counterproductive. Spence et al. (1987) observed
that competitiveness might sometimes have a “hostile, aggres-
sive tinge to it” that may negatively impact on both health and
performance (p. 527). Indeed, Rosenman (1991) suggested that
it was this inappropriate or excessive competitiveness associ-
ated with the Type A behavior pattern that was the “toxic fac-
tor” as far as increased risk for coronary heart disease was con-
cerned (i.e., the “hard-driving competitiveness” of Booth-
Kewley & Friedman, 1987).
Karen Horney’s (1937) notion of hypercompetitiveness, a
neurotic need to compete indiscriminately and to win at any or
B. THORNTON ET AL.
all cost, is conceptually consistent with the inappropriately
excessive, hostile, hard-driving competitiveness associated with
the toxic component of the Type A behavior pattern (i.e., Birks
& Roger, 2000; Booth-Kewley & Friedman, 1987; Rosenman,
1991). A hypercompetitive orientation is characterized by be-
havior that is not only hostile and aggressive toward others, but
also manipulative and exploitive of them. Further, Horney con-
sidered such excessive competitive strivings to be a maladap-
tive means of maintaining and enhancing feelings of self-worth.
Consistent with her contention that hypercompetitiveness is
based in neurosis and would detrimentally impact on personal-
ity and behavior, there is considerable research evidence that
hypercompetitive individuals are indeed less psychologically
healthy than those not so hypercompetitive. For example, hy-
percompetitive individuals tend to be low in self-esteem,
self-actualization, interpersonal trust, and forgiveness of others
and also are high in destructive narcissism, Machiavellianism,
authoritarianism, dogmatism, and the need to control and
dominate others (Collier, Ryckman, Thornton, & Gold, 2010;
Dru, 2003; Ryckman, Hammer, Kaczor, & Gold, 1990; Ryck-
man, Libby, Van Den Borne, Gold, & Lindner, 1997; Ryckman,
Thornton, & Butler, 1994; Ryckman, Thornton, Gold, & Bur-
ckle, 2002; Watson, Morris, & Miller, 1998). Moreover, re-
search has indicated that hypercompetitive individuals are in-
deed highly neurotic and, in particular, their neurotic tendencies
are grounded in anger and hostility toward others (Ross,
Rausch, & Canada, 2003).
In stark contrast to hypercompetitiveness, personal develop-
ment competitiveness reflects an alternative healthy, positive
competitive orientation (Ryckman & Hamel, 1992; Ryckman et
al., 1996, 1997). Similar to Spence et al.’s general notion of
competitiveness as a healthy enjoyment of competition and a
desire to win, those characterized by this competitive orienta-
tion are indeed highly motivated to win and succeed. However,
such individuals have learned to compete with (rather than
against) others in order to achieve their personal goals. And,
while they may certainly desire to win and be successful, it
would not be at any cost or at the expense of others. Moreover,
they may focus less on the task outcome (i.e., win or lose) and
more on the enjoyment inherent in the task itself (i.e., task
mastery and the self-discovery, self-improvement, and personal
growth gained through competition). This personal develop-
ment competitive orientation is associated with various indica-
tors of social and psychological health, correlating positively
with self-esteem, achievement, affiliation, forgiveness, concern
for the welfare of others, while negatively correlated with neu-
roticism, dominance, and aggressiveness (Collier et al., 2010;
Ryckman & Hamel, 1992; Ryckman, Hammer, Kaczor, & Gold,
1996; Ryckman, Libby, Van Den Borne, Gold, & Lindner,
The present research sought to explore further the distinction
between these two competitive orientations and, in particular,
their respective associations with the Achievement Striving and
Impatience-Irritability components of the Type A behavior pat-
tern. In particular, it was expected that hypercompetitiveness
would not be related to Achievement Striving, but positively
correlate with Impatience-Irritability. In contrast, personal de-
velopment competitiveness would be positively correlated with
Achievement Strivings, but not related to Impatience-Irritability.
Of additional interest was to see whether the two competitive
strivings would differentially relate to actual academic achieve-
ment and physical health reports as well. Considering the mal-
adaptive nature of hypercompetitiveness, it was expected to be
negatively associated with actual academic achievement and
positively associated with health-related complaints. Personal
development competitiveness was expected to have an opposite
pattern of relationships.
Participants and Procedure
Undergraduate students, 140 men (Mage = 23.8) and 166
women (Mage = 24.4), volunteered to participate in this study
in exchange for extra credit in their psychology course at a
public university in the northeast. Group sessions were held
during which the students completed a set of questionnaires
ostensibly to obtain baseline data for comparison purposes in
subsequent research. Upon completion, students were thanked
for their participation and provided an explanation of the re-
search purpose and contact information should they desire fur-
Hypercompetitive Attitude Scale. Ryckman et al.’s (1990)
26-item scale provided for a reliable and valid assessment of
individual differences in hypercompetitive attitudes. Sample
items include “Winning in competition makes me feel more
powerful as a person” and “I find myself being competitive
even in situations that do not call for competition.” Item re-
sponses are made on a five-point scale, “never true of me” (1)
to “always true of me” (5) with higher total scores reflecting a
greater hypercompetitive orientation. The internal consistency
of this scale in the present study was .87.
Personal Development Competitive Attitude. This is a reli-
able and valid 15-item assessment of a psychologically healthy
competitive orientation concerned more with personal growth
and development than individual attainment (Ryckman et al.,
1996). Individual items are responded to on a five-point scale,
strongly disagree (1) to strongly agree (5). Sample items in-
clude: “Competition helps me develop my abilities more” and
“I value competition because it helps me to be the best that I
can be.” Higher scores are indicative of a greater personal de-
velopment competitive attitude. The internal consistency of this
scale in the present study was .90.
Type A Behavior Pattern. Spence et al.’s (1987) adaptation
of the Jenkin’s Activity Scale provided for separate assessments
of the two components of the Type A behavior pattern previ-
ously discussed. The seven-item Achievement Strivings factor
focuses on achievement-related attitudes and behavior. Sample
items are “Nowadays, do you consider yourself to be: very
hard-driving or very relaxed and easy going?” and “How seri-
ously do you take your work?” The five-item Impatience-Ir r i-
tability factor is concerned with anger, impatience, and irritabil-
ity. Sample items are “Do you tend to do things in a hurry?”
and “Typically, how easily do you get irritated?” All items are
responded to using a five-point scale with appropriately labeled
end-values (e.g., 1 = never, 5 = always). Scoring was such that
higher scores reflected greater Achievement Strivings and Im-
patience-Irritability; internal consistencies of the two scales in
B. THORNTON ET AL. 413
the present study were .76 and .70, respectively.
Academic Achievement. Actual academic achievement was
assessed using the cumulative grade-point average (GPA) of the
participants a year following the semester in which data for the
present study was collected. The number of semesters included
in the students’ GPA varied among students; the modal number
of semesters completed by participants in the present study was
four; median credit hours completed was 35.
Health Survey. Included in the questionnaire set was the
22-item “health survey” used by Spence and Helmreich (1987).
Among the health events listed were headaches, backaches,
feeling down or depressed, fatigue or exhaustion, rashes, tight-
ness in the chest, indigestion, constipation, colds and flu, and
substance abuse. Participants indicated how often each specific
physical health event had occurred during the past year using a
five-point scale, “never” (1) to “very frequently” (5). Item re-
sponses are summed so that higher total scores indicated greater
self-reported health problems. Internal consistency for this as-
sessment in the present study was .89.
Social Desirability Scale. A short form of the Marlowe-
Crowne Social Desirability Scale (Reynolds, 1982) was used to
assess an individual’s tendency to seek approval by responding
to statements in a socially desirable manner. This was included
as a possible control for social desirability response bias. Sam-
ple items from the 13-item scale are “I’m always willing to
admit when I make a mistake” and “I sometimes feel resentful
when I don’t get my way.” Each item is responded to as either
“true” or “false” with points accumulated for every item re-
sponded to in a socially desirable manner. Thus, higher scores
would reflect greater predisposition to respond in a socially
desirable manner; internal consistency of these items in the
present study was .86.
Results and Discussion
Social Desirability Response Bias. Initial correlational analy-
ses indicated significant relationships between social desirabil-
ity and other individual difference assessments. In particular,
individuals predisposed to present themselves in a socially de-
sirable manner expressed higher Achievement Striving (r = .20),
less Impatience-Irritability (r = –.34), less hypercompetitive-
ness (r = –.41), and more personal development competitive-
ness (r = .17; all ps < .05 or better). Partial correlation analyses
were conducted in order to control statistically for the influence
of social desirability response bias, however, this did not ap-
preciably alter the strength of relationships among the different
assessments. As such, it is the zero-order correlation coeffi-
cients that are presented in Table 1 and discussed here.
Competitive Orientation and Type A Behavior. Achievement
Strivings and Impatience-Irritability components of the Type A
behavior pattern were not highly correlated with one another (r
= .14, p < .05), and were related on a magnitude similar to that
previously observed (e.g., Pred et al., 1987; Spence et al., 1987).
As expected, hypercompetitiveness was not associated with
Achievement Strivings (r = .08, ns), but was positively corre-
lated with Impatience-Irritability (r = .36, p < .01), the Type A
component implicated in increased risk for coronary heart dis-
ease. In contrast to hypercompetitiveness, and consistent with
expectations, the personal development competitive orientation
was positively associated with Achievement Strivings (r = .24,
Correlation coefficie nts among assessment sca l es.
AS I-I HC PDC HP GPA
Strivings - .14a .08 .24c .05 .30c
Impatience-Irritability - .36c .04 .32c .08
Hypercompetitiveness - –.05 .21c .09
Competitiveness - –.36c .23c
Health Problems - –.08
Note: n = 306; ap < .05; bp < .01; cp < .001.
p < .001), but not correlated with Impatience-Irritability (r
Actual Academic Achievement. The Achievement Striving
component of Type A behavior was positively related to stu-
dents’ grade-point average (r = .30, p < .001), whereas Impa-
tience-Irritability was not (r = .08). This pattern is similar to
that of previous research (e.g., Spence et al., 1987, 1989). Con-
sistent with a desire to succeed along with a concern for per-
sonal growth, personal development competitiveness was posi-
tively associated with actual academic performance (r = .23, p
< .001). Hypercompetitiveness was not significantly related to
actual achievement (r = –.08) and suggests that both hyper-
competitive and non-hypercompetitive individuals may demon-
strate comparable academic performance. As previously noted,
the hypercompetitive person is more likely to be engaged in
academic pursuits for extrinsic, rather than intrinsic, reasons
(e.g., Ryckman et al., 1990). Specifically, while hypercompeti-
tive individuals may value working hard to achieve success
(Ryckman et al., 1997), they strive for success primarily to win
recognition and praise from others (Horney, 1937). When such
attention is not forthcoming, their motivation to pursue a goal
may diminish rapidly, resulting in deep disappointment and
even depression (Ryckman et al., 1990). Thus, their motivation
to succeed through consistent pursuit of a goal is variable and
may keep them from being as successful as they want or could
be in many situations.
Health Problems. The Impatience-Irritability component of
the Type A behavior pattern correlated positively with self-
reported health problems (r = .32, p < .001), but Achievement
Strivings did not (r = .05). This is consistent with previous
research (e.g., Spence et al., 1987, 1989). Personal development
competitiveness was negatively associated with reported health
problems (r = –.36, p < .001). In contrast, hypercompetitive-
ness was positively associated with health problems (r = .21, p
< .001). The negative health implications associated with the
Type A behavior pattern are not associated with Achievement
Strivings, but instead relate consistently to another component
of Type A, whether it be characterized as Impatience-Irritability
(Spence & Helmreich, 1987), Speed- Impatience (Furnham,
1990; Palmero et al., 2001), anger, hostility and aggressiveness
(Gray, 1990; Johnson, 1990; Swan, Carmelli, & Rosenman,
1991), or hard-driving competitiveness (Booth-Kewley &
Friedman, 1987). Any and all of these characterizations are
embodied in the hypercompetitive personality construct (Hor-
ney, 1937), but are atypical of personal development competi-
tiveness (Ryckman et al., 1996). And common to them all may
be the fast activation, heightened reactivity, and slow recovery
of the autonomic nervous system in response to cognitive and
psychomotor activity that is characteristically associated with
B. THORNTON ET AL.
the Type A personality’s poor prognosis for hypertension and
coronary heart disease (Gray, 1990; Harbin, 1989; Palmero et
al., 2001; Pfiffner, 1989).
Overall, the present results provide further support for the
independent distinction between the Type A behavior compo-
nents, Achievement Striving and Impatience-Irritability. These
results also provide further support for the concurrent and dis-
criminant validity of the hypercompetitiveness and personal
development competitiveness constructs. Hypercompetitiveness
was not related to Achievement Strivings, but did correlate
positively with Impatience-Irritability, the Type A behavior
component implicated in increased risk for hypertension and
coronary heart disease. In addition, this psychologically un-
healthy competitive orientation did not relate to actual aca-
demic achievement, but was associated with greater self-re-
ported health problems. In contrast, personal development com-
petitiveness related positively to Achievement Strivings while
having no association with Impatience-Irritability. This healthy
competitive orientation was associated with greater actual aca-
demic achievement and fewer reported health problems.
In addition to continuing to examine the personality and be-
havioral correlates of these two competitive orientations, future
research should also direct attention to the psychosomatic im-
plications for the hypercompetitive personality. In particular,
whereas the present study relied on self-reported health prob-
lems, subsequent research may utilize other, more objective,
assessments of he alth-relate d problems in general (e.g., medical
records) and risk-factors for hypertension and coronary heart
disease in particular. And, in consideration of the Type A per-
sonality’s highly reactive and slow-to-recover autonomic nerv-
ous system, it would be interesting to see whether hypercom-
petitive individuals have the same physiological propensity.
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